In the last installment, we dealt with the first Pope Simon Peter - the Rock - Petrus in carrying out his charge from Our Lord "Tu es Petrus". Today in the seventh installment of this mega-part series on the History of the Mass and Holy Mother Church we deal with the first century and the three popes after Peter.
Through the blood of the thousands of martyrs slain in Rome, the seeds of Christianity grew. Though the Romans tried to silence the
Christians, it was only their bodies they could kill for their souls lived proving that nothing can
destroy the Spirit and the Holy Ghost was and is indeed present in the Mystical Body of Christ - His
Church from the beginning.
As the disciples gathered St. Peter's strangulated body for a proper burial after his crucifixion in 67
AD at the command of the Roman Emperor Nero , the influential disciples appointed Saint Linus, a holy man from Tuscany, as his successor to lead the young Church. Linus was born in Volterra and
died on September 23, 76 AD. He created the first fifteen bishops and forbade women to enter a
church with uncovered heads. It was during his pontificate that the evangelists Saint Luke and
Saint Mark were martyred for their faith and the infant Church - a Church that was at war - at war
with Rome for the proud empire scoffed at these Christians. Just as they had subdued the Jews
before Christ's birth, so also they would do the same to these upstart Christians. Peter had dared to
venture to the heart of this empire, bringing a message to Caesar that his work was done. His
Roman legions had made paths through the populace so that the apostles could travel afar. Rome's
galleys had swept the seas so Christian envoys could sail safely. Peter, like Christ before him,
maintained that Rome's laws had clasped the world in peace so the nations could hear the good
tidings of the Gospel; he had come to conquer Rome not with a sword, but with the sceptre of love
and sacrifice. The eagles adorning the Capitol and legions would be replaced by the Cross. Where
the pagan temples stood on Vatican Hill, would rise the greatest tribute to the Son of God - the seat
of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
But it would not come easily nor early, for Rome owned the
earth and the her legions had downtrodden the earth, shaking every land with its superior tread and pagan gods. The Roman
galley prows had traveled every sea in search of new riches and conquests. Wherever the eagle
standards appeared foreign kings would lay down their arms, kneeling in submission to mighty
Rome, while fearfully opening their treasures and homes to the greedy lust of Rome.
No power had
been able to withstand the sword of Rome. Yet here was a handful of unarmed Christians calling for
Rome to lay down her sword and take up the cross. Rome laughed and resolved to wipe this "gnat
of perturbance" off the face of the earth. Little did mighty Rome know that the Cross is indeed
mightier than the sword, no matter how much blood was shed.
Blood indeed was shed as Christian after Christian joyfully embraced death at the hands of the
frustrated and bewildered proud, overconfident Romans. But their blood became the seeds of
Christianity throughout the world, just as the historian Tertullian recorded. Little did anyone know, other than those truly devoted to Christ,
that Rome's days were numbered and Christianity's just beginning.
Into this scenario Linus became
the second Pope. He ruled for eleven years in which time the persecutions intensified as Rome
became more and more frustrated not only at the sight of these "crazy Christians dying with a smile
on their face and love in their hearts" but the growing unrest in Jerusalem where the Jews, who had
grown weary of Roman dominance, mounted one last effort to oust the Romans from Israel. As
Rome had done in the past, they squashed this uprising at the battle of Masada, which became a
battle cry for the Jewish nation for centuries to come as they saw their mighty Jerusalem destroyed in
Under Vespasian and then his son Titus the Romans put a stranglehold on the Jewish food and water supplies, starving thousands. Helpless, thousands of Jews were slaughtered when the
Romans marched on the city, razing the walls of Jerusalem to the ground. Out of despair, God raises
up hope and many Jews realized this was indeed a confirmation of Christ's mission: the Old Covenant had ended. A New Covenant established by the Nazarene so despised by the Sanhedrin was the new law of hearts. Many Jews realized the letter of the Law must
give way to the spirit of the Law - the new spirit of Christianity. Indeed, through their conversion
was fulfilled the words of David in Psalm 118: 4, "The stone which the builders rejected has
become the Cornerstone." Christ, Who had been rejected by the Jews was now the One they
turned to in rebuilding their faith.
It was Saint Cletus who the disciples turned to as the third successor of Peter upon St. Linus' death in
76 AD. Pope St. Cletus was the first Roman-born elected and drew up the rules for the
consecration of bishops and established rules for governing ecclesiastical garb. Near the tomb of St.
Peter he ordered an oratory be built for the burial of martyrs. During this time he advised bishops to
ordain priests and deacons so the faith could spread. He consulted by messenger with the Bishop of
Antioch who had jurisdiction over Syria, the Bishop of Ephesus who ruled over Asia Minor, the
Bishop of Caesarea who governed Palestine, the Bishop of Alexandria who covered all of Egypt,
and the Bishop of Carthage who was responsible for the rest of Northern Africa.
In 88 AD St. Cletus was laid to rest near the tomb of St. Linus on Vatican Hill after suffering martyrdom for the Faith. He was succeeded by Pope Saint Clement I who was consecrated a bishop by Peter himself. Clement restored the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the rite of St. Peter and introduced the "Amen" into religious
ceremonies. In addition to the increasing persecutions by the Romans, Clement had to contend with
schism and mutiny from within. It was the first schism within the Church founded by the Son of God. As we know, it would not be the last.
The internal strife in the Church at Corinth prompted him to write his famous epistle to the Corinthians in which he urged the duties of charity and total submission to the
authority of the clergy and the pope. It bore great fruit and the Corinthian Church once again fell in
line with Rome. Clement died a martyr somewhere between the years 97 and 100 AD when the
Emperor Trajan banished him to Pontus. There he was thrown into the sea with an anchor tied
around his neck. During his papacy Saint John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple was cast into a
caldron of boiling oil by the Emperor Domitian and expected to suffer a cruel martyrdom, but God
miraculously intervened and John emerged unhurt. Spooked by this, the Romans exiled him to the
Isle of Patmos where he would be inspired to write the Apocalypse with numerous
visions from God. He died at an old age in total peace in Ephesus in the year 100 AD.
Clement was succeeded by Pope Saint Evaristus, the fifth successor of Peter and the first Grecian-born pontiff whose papacy, in reality, is recorded to the Second Century. Therefore we will cover his pontificate when we deal with the Second Century in future installments.
One century down...nineteen and counting to go. The four popes who had ruled during that first
embryo-stage century had set the tone for Holy Mother Church. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass had been established in Latin not the vernacular, catechumens were gaining in numbers and a hierarchy had been set up with the Bishop of Rome being recognized as the authentic and authorized successor of Peter, therefore having jurisdiction over all other bishops. All owed their obedience and loyalty to the Vicar of Christ in Rome. Anyone who failed to recognize this authority was considered an outsider. If a controversy or disagreement
concerning the teachings and doctrines of the Church arose, the Bishop of Rome - the Pope - had
the final say.
Though the bloodshed would continue and even increase in the name of Jesus Christ, no matter how
hard the Romans tried to destroy them bodily, they could not kill the Spirit. It was the age of Blood
and that blood, nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Soul and Divinity, replenished
countless souls to shed their own blood so that they could indeed join Him in a kingdom that would
never end. The Romans could not understand this and grappled on, wrestling with more cruel ways
to destroy Christianity.
In chapter eight we shall cover the second century, one that was even more bloody than the first. In
addition, we will examine the spiritual life of the early Christians and what prompted them to defy the
things of the world in favor of Heavenly rewards.